Category Archives: Workers’ Compensation

Fault Doesn’t Matter in Workers’ Compensation, Except When It Matters

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fingerpointingWorkers’ compensation law is founded on a compromise where employees give up the right to sue their employers for negligence in order to receive relatively certain benefits. What plaintiff’s lawyers like me don’t often say is that workers can generally collect benefits if they share some – or even all of the blame – for a work injury.

But the idea of fault has not been entirely erased from workers’ compensation law. Our colleagues at The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina recently discussed in a blog post how employer violations of safety rules could lead to increases in benefits, while employee violation of safety laws could lead to decreases in benefits.

Nebraska does not increase or decrease benefits based on safety-rule violations like North Carolina, but Nebraska does allow employers to avoid paying benefits if they can prove a worker’s willful negligence or intoxication was the cause of the work injury. This is a difficult burden for an employer to meet, but employees can still lose cases based upon willful negligence.

If an employer is going to claim a worker was willfully negligent because of a safety violation, a court will consider five factors as to whether an employee was willfully negligent. These factors are

  1. whether the employer had a reasonable rule designed to protect the safety and health of the employee
  2. whether the employee was on notice of the rule
  3. whether the employee understood the danger involved by violating the rule
  4. whether the rule was kept alive by bona fide enforcement and
  5. whether the employee had an excuse for the rule violation.

Whether an employee willfully violated a safety rule is a question of fact that depends on the circumstances and the credibility of the parties testifying in a case.

Nebraska law holds that ordinary negligence by a worker is not a bar to benefits. But an employer can delay benefits under the argument that but for the employee’s negligence, the employee’s injury could have been accommodated. That is an open question under Nebraska law. But if there is no question that an employee cannot work, and the worker is fired for negligence in connection with a work injury, the employer should still have to pay benefits.

Intoxication is often grouped with willful negligence under Nebraska law. It is very difficult for an employer to deny benefits based on intoxication causing the work accident. Another issue related to intoxication is when an employee tests positive for drugs after a work accident even if there is no evidence of intoxication at the time of the injury. A positive drug test will not bar an employee from receiving workers’ compensation benefits in Nebraska, but it could delay lost time or temporary disability benefits if an employer argues that temporary restrictions could be accommodated but for the employee’s termination for cause.

If an employee is not at fault for an injury, there may be other ways for an employee to be compensated. If an injury is caused by the negligence of a third party, the employee can sue that third party. If an employer retaliates against an employee for reporting an unsafe working condition that causes an injury, then the worker could pursue a retaliation case. Employees should also be skeptical if they are wrongfully blamed for a work accident, as this could be a form of retaliation. Another possible form of retaliation is when an employee is fired for having a work injury as a probationary employee or having too many injuries, regardless of fault.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Safety Rules, Safety violations, Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury and tagged , , , , .

How Do Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Judges End Up on the Bench?

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There are seven judges who are active in the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. These judges are solely workers’ compensation judges and do not hear any other cases outside of the Nebraska Workers’ Compensation Court. Four of the judges have offices in Lincoln, and three have offices in Omaha, but the seven judges cover the entire state. Trials are conducted by these judges in the county where the work-related injury occurred. If the injury occurred outside of the state, the hearing is held in Lincoln or in any other venue to which the parties agree.

How do these judges end up on the bench? The workers’ compensation judges in Nebraska are not elected, unlike in some states. Instead, like all state-court judges in Nebraska, a pool of judicial candidates is screened and narrowed by a judicial nominating commission. These commissions are made up of both lawyers and laypersons from both political parties and also independents. After the narrowing process, the governor appoints a judge from that limited group. After the appointment, every six years, the judge will be up for a vote of the general public as to whether the judge should be retained on the bench. If the vote is to retain the judge, then that judge remains for another six-year term.

A system like this does a good job of narrowing the candidates for the governor to a group of the most qualified. Further, this process usually limits politics in the judiciary and it is greatly preferable to the states where judges are simply elected. Here is a good video explaining why.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Courts, Government, Nebraska, Omaha, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , .

What Does this Improper Medical Treatment Sanction from OSHA Mean?

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BoheadFor the first time ever, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recently sanctioned a Pilgrim’s Pride chicken processing plant for providing improper medical treatment for employees suffering from overuse injuries. While the hazards of meatpacking work to employees is common knowledge and the packing industry is frequently sanctioned for unsafe work practices, the sanction against Pilgrim’s Pride for failing to provide medical care to their workers in Florida indicates OSHA is opening a new front in the battle for a safe workplace.

While OSHA’s sanctioning Pilgrim’s Pride for providing inadequate medical care to their injured workers is novel, their action is consistent with law that states access to prompt and appropriate medical care is crucial to pursuing a workers’ compensation claim. OSHA sanctioned Pilgrim’s Pride for failure to make timely and proper referrals to specialists for orthopedic injuries when employees sought treatment at company first-aid or nursing stations. According to OSHA, delays in treatment can lead to permanent injuries.

The fact that OSHA deems inadequate medical care to be a violation of its regulations could also mean that employees have a statutorily protected right to oppose inadequate medical care. In Nebraska, this would mean that employees could possibly sue their employers under the Nebraska Fair Employment Practices Act. Celeste Monforton, a professor of public health at George Washington University, noted in her post that employers use company health clinics not only to delay treatment but to discourage employees from seeking medical care. Some employers go so far as to discipline employees who do not get permission from their employer to seek outside medical treatment. A recent case in an Illinois federal court stated such policies were illegal.

While Nebraska does not have any case law similar to Illinois about such policies, there is a strong argument to make that such policies would be illegal under Nebraska law and under the law of any state that prohibits retaliation against employees for filing workers’ compensation claims. Policies that require notification and permission to seek medical treatment from employers could also run afoul of Nebraska’s laws allowing employees to choose their own doctors. One Nebraska court has hinted that the right to pick a doctor is a legally protected activity.

Monforton also pointed out that Pilgrim’s Pride could be committing medical malpractice by failing to provide proper care and having nurses treat injured employees without proper medical supervision.

However, packinghouses have some reason to believe that they are immune from medical malpractice suits filed by their employees against their employee health nurses. The legal shorthand for this is called the exclusive remedy. In practice, this means that an employer who provides medical treatment in a negligent manner to an employee who is treating for a work injury can only be sued in workers’ compensation court.

Of course, there are some ways around the exclusive remedy for medical care. The first exception would be that if employee health was outsourced. This would allow an employee to sue that provider directly and could also allow for a civil conspiracy or civil RICO claim.

There may also be other exceptions as well. For example, Nebraska has a Meatpacking Industry Workers Bill of Rights that states that workers employed at covered meatpacking houses have a right to a safe workplace and the right to seek benefits, including workers’ compensation. If an employer does not provide adequate medical care or provides negligent medical care, that could certainly violate the public policy behind the Meatpacking Industry Workers Bill of Rights and warrant a tort case against the packinghouses under the public policy of the state of Nebraska.

Workers’ Compensation Claim May Lead to Other Claims, Too

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Two recent incidents involving truckers and grain-processing plant workers in Nebraska make clear that work injuries don’t always just involve workers’ compensation claims. Workers’ compensation claims can lead to claims of negligence by third parties and/or develop into claims against employers for retaliating against employees.

The fundamental idea of workers’ compensation is that an employee can be compensated by the employer, regardless of fault, for a work injury. In exchange, the employee agrees to damages that are capped by law. However, if an injury is the fault of someone besides the employer, then that party can be sued for negligence. Such an incident may have happened in Lincoln earlier this week. One person was in critical condition at the hospital after he was hit while unloading a parked semi-trailer, according to this article.

“… the driver of a Freightliner full-sized delivery van reversed out of the loading dock area of Hy-Vee. As he backed up, he checked his mirrors but didn’t see another man unloading a parked semi-trailer, who was also delivering product to the store, Officer Katie Flood said.”

It appears that Mr. Scott L. Johnson, the 51-year-old Lincoln man who was hit, was the driver of the semi and was pinned between the van and his rig.

“He was out of surgery and in critical condition at Bryan West Campus Monday night, Capt. Bob Farber said.”

The incident at the Hy-Vee loading dock in southeast Lincoln just illustrates the danger posed to truckers and workers who load and unload trucks and rail cars. This danger was highlighted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s proposed fines to sanction a firm in Alliance, Nebraska, for unsafe conditions in a grain processing plant. OSHA’s Local Emphasis Program for Grain Handling hazards led to the inspection, where investigators found 17 violations and proposed $61,000 in fines.

Violations included “fall hazards up to 15 feet while accessing the tops of rail cars and from ladderway openings and platforms lacking guardrails and open-sided work platforms …”; “grain dust explosion hazards …”; “personal protective equipment needs were not evaluated …”; and “lack of an occupational noise monitoring program including audiometric testing, noise monitoring and fitting and correct use of hearing protection …” were found, among other concerns.

“New Alliance handles and processes Great Northern and Pinto dry edible beans at locations in Alliance, Bridgeport, Gering, Hemingford and Mirage Flats. The company is a division of Alliance-based Western Cooperative Company known as WESTCO,” according to this news release.

An employee who reports an injury from an unsafe condition might also be opposing potentially illegal conduct by an employer and could have a claim beyond just a work-injury claim. These claims can often arise when employers discipline or terminate employees if they are believed to have been at fault for an injury. If you are being blamed for a work injury by your company, that shouldn’t stop you from filing a workers’ compensation claim, because fault shouldn’t matter in a workers’ compensation case. If you are being blamed for an injury, you might also be able to pursue a retaliation case.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury and tagged , , , .

Trouble Flexing Your Foot Up? You May Have Foot Drop.

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Today’s blog post was written by Anthony L. Lucas from The Jernigan Law Firm in North Carolina. I think that consumers and those who have loved ones with this condition will find this information useful. Just like in a previous blog post that Mr. Lucas wrote, it is helpful to have more details about a medical concern, so a person can have the knowledge to ask questions for greater understanding of a person’s individual situation.

Though each case’s details are different, in general, if foot drop is a result of you or your loved one’s work-related injury, it is more than likely covered by a state’s workers’ compensation laws. There are some exceptions in Nebraska, so please contact a lawyer who is familiar with your state’s workers’ compensation system for more information and with your specific details.

Foot drop describes the inability of a person to lift his or her foot at the ankle due to weakness or paralysis of the muscles that lift the foot. Foot drop can be caused by several things including: an injury to the spinal cord, an injury to the nerve that controls the muscles involved in lifting the foot during hip or knee replacement surgery or during intramuscular injections, ALS, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or muscular dystrophy.

Symptoms of foot drop include dragging your foot on the floor when you walk, walking like you are climbing stairs to prevent your foot from dragging, and numbness on the top of your foot and toes. Treatment options depend on the cause and severity of a person’s drop foot and include orthotics such as braces or foot splints, physical therapy, or surgery including decompression, nerve sutures, nerve grafting, nerve transfer, or tendon transfer.

Depending on the cause of a person’s foot drop, it may not be a lifelong disability. If the underlying cause is trauma or nerve damage it is possible for a person’s foot drop to improve or go away completely; however, if the underlying cause is a progressive neurological disorder, foot drop will likely continue as a lifelong disability.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury and tagged , , , , , , .

Workers’ Compensation Advocate David DePaolo Will be Missed

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David DePaolo

David DePaolo

David DePaolo, founder of WorkCompCentral, recently passed away. He was one of the most authentic individuals in the workers’ compensation industry, who often advocated for the injured worker in his blog posts.

Mr. DePaolo was an intellect, visionary and bridge to all sides of the table in the workers’ compensation arena. It is people like him that the workers’ compensation systems around the country need in order to make things fair, reasonable and just for all.

Thoughts go to his family and loved ones.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Lawyers, Workers' Compensation and tagged , .

Can I Collect Unemployment and Workers’ Compensation Benefits at the Same Time?

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In Nebraska, an injured worker who is laid off, fired or leaves a job for good cause can collect unemployment benefits and still receive Temporary Partial Disability (TPD) benefits and Permanent Partial Disability (PPD) benefits from the workers’ compensation insurance company. The Nebraska Labor Department unemployment law does not allow a worker to receive unemployment during the same week the person is paid Temporary Total Disability (TTD) workers’ compensation payments.

To receive unemployment benefits, the injured worker must be ready, willing and able to work.  As long as injured worker is ready, willing and able to work within one’s own restrictions, that worker can receive unemployment benefits during the same week that they are entitled to TPD and PPD benefits. 

If a person is totally unable to work and getting TTD benefits, that person cannot receive unemployment benefits since they, by definition, are not ready, willing and able to work.

Under the workers’ compensation laws, it is also important to remember that compensation benefits cannot be offset with what is paid under the unemployment benefits. For guidance, please refer to Nebraska Statute 48-130 that supports this rule of law.

If you have been laid off or terminated, you are still entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in the above situations.

If you have any questions, call us for a free consultation.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in employment law, Workers' Compensation and tagged , , , , , , .

I Can’t Do My Old Job, So I Qualify for Disability, Right?

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dib1It’s not uncommon for workers to expect to qualify for disability when they are unable to work in a job that they have held for years. The question becomes does that mean they are disabled under Social Security Administration rules? As in most cases in dealing with the law, the answer is maybe!

For workers under the age of 50, applicants must prove that they are also unable to obtain any work in the general economy, even if they can’t do their typical jobs. This includes unskilled work, and the SSA makes no distinction for what type of pay cut a worker must accept to remain gainfully employed. For instance, let’s assume a worker was earning $20 an hour as an electrician, but could no longer handle the rigors of that employment. If that person can do a minimum-wage job full time or at the level of substantial gainful employment as set by the SSA, then a person is not considered disabled under the SSA rules. Many people are surprised that the SSA would require this. Even if jobs don’t exist within the current labor market, the SSA would require a worker to move herself to a larger market to continue to be employed.

For individuals over the age of 50, the primary question is did they acquire skills from prior employment that would enable them to transition into other employment areas. If those skills would allow the worker to transition to alternate employment, then they are not considered disabled. If those skills are too specialized and don’t easily transition to alternate employment, the worker may very may well be disabled, according to SSA rules.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Disability, employment law, U.S. Department of Labor, Work Injury, Workers' Compensation, Workplace Injury and tagged , , .